My issue is sustainable consumerism. There are many root causes and major contributing factors that lead to unsustainable consumerism, such as availability, affordability, population growth, social interactions, norms and habits, lack of education, among other things. The majority of consumers purchase products that are affordable for them and products they have easy access to through the stores that they live closest to. Because non-biodegradable, non-environmentally friendly items are cheaper and easier to mass produce, they are typically the items stocked in stores. Sustainable consumerism isn’t a habit or expectation that is commonly taught or reinforced in our society. Rather, we live in a high waste-producing community in which being environmentally conservative and conscious is not expected.
One of the greatest challenges in addressing these root causes, I think, is trying to convince so many people, in a socially just way, that they should alter their consumption patterns in order to prevent continued misuse of natural resources. This is a challenge because trying to convince others to change their lifestyle habits for a cause that extends beyond immediate relevance to them can backfire if not addressed properly. Another challenge is trying to figure out a way to make sustainable products accessible for lower income communities, both economically and geographically. It is often the case that many people cannot afford to purchase sustainable goods, as they tend to be more expensive. Yet another challenge is learning how to effectively push manufacturers to create less wasteful, and less harmful products. Consumers will purchase whatever is available to them, so if producers are willing to make a change on their end, it would mean less work for the consumers.
The EPA protects and “enhances the environment… to the fullest extent possible under the laws enacted by Congress. The mission… is to control and abate pollution in the areas of air, water, solid waste, noise, radiation, and toxic substances.” The EPA’s budgeting, policies, and regulations are determined by our government. So, depending on which issues Congress determines are more or less important to address, the EPA could be given more or less money, which largely determines how much of an impact they are able to make. If Congress does not feel it is important to make policies regarding environmental protection, then manufacturers are given more leeway with what they produce and how they produce it, essentially altering the opportunities for sustainable consumerism. National Geographic states that as of now, many of the actions [of the Trump administration] intend to roll back Obama-era policies that aimed to curb climate change and limit environmental pollution, while others threaten to limit federal funding for science and the environment. Environmental policy and law is the “network of treaties, statutes, regulations, common and customary laws addressing the effects of human activity on the natural environment.” Again, because the Trump administration at large does not view environmentalism as important, they focus less on addressing these policies and regulating waste production and consumerism. This all makes it much more difficult for sustainable consumerism to advance on a national scale.
Sustainable consumerism has an effect everywhere in the U.S. Because Columbus and Ohio State are such dense, crowded communities, a lot of waste is being produced in a small area. The US Census Bureau found in 2016 that 11.5% of families in Columbus, Ohio earn less than $15,000 a year and that 16.3% of families had annual incomes that were below the poverty level. Also, food deserts are common in Columbus, meaning there is limited access to healthy foods and sustainable products. Again, consumers will, on most occasions, buy what is convenient and affordable for them, not what has the least environmental impact. This applies to college students on campus too. Local organizations that are addressing this issue are Best Food Forward, an on-campus organization that gives students access to fresh, local foods at an affordable cost. The Ohio Healthy Food Financing Task Force is advocating for a program to provide grants and loans to fresh food retailers for building or expanding grocery stores to improve healthy food options for communities around the state. GreenSpot is a “program where households, businesses, organizations and community groups learn more about being green and are inspired to take small steps that, together, add up to a big impact”.
This TED talk by Dianna Cohen, an artist and co-founder of the Plastic Pollution Coalition, shared her knowledge about the harsh realities of plastic production, consumption, and pollution in the oceans, as well as ways in which consumers can cut down on their plastic consumption. Something new I learned and that is helpful information for my issue exploration is that in the United States, less than 7% of our plastics are recycled and the majority of it is down-cycled, incinerated, or shipped to China. Cohen suggested that, whenever possible, refuse single-use and disposable plastics and instead use alternatives. Because Cohen founded the Plastic Pollution Coalition, a group that addresses the pervasive problem of plastic pollution, she is obviously biased towards promoting environmental protection and solutions, as it is something she finds to be a problem.
Food Deserts in Columbus